Where Will YOU Be When He Comes?

"Friend, are you where you're supposed to be?" That's what old Omar Jones, my High School Principal asked every morning on hall duty. If you're still in school, you know about hall duty. If not, I suspect you remember. Somebody needs to see everybody's where they're supposed to be, need to be, to get the message of the day. All across Easter, God Godself posts the resurrected Jesus on hall duty. From then 'til now, Christ Arisen has been askin' everybody. "Friend, are you where you're supposed to be?" It all begins with Thomas. "Doubting Thomas," he's often called. I think we oughta call him, "Learning Thomas". That's his real story.  And his real legacy to us. Thomas' late arrival to Easter challenges us as Jesus challenges him. "Friend, are you where you're supposed to be?" Thomas' Upper Room absence when Jesus arrives-uplifted begs the question of us all. Where will you be when he comes? Where will I be?

It's so easy to be in the wrong place. Even when we're in the right place.  And that makes Easter hard to receive. Thomas was absent. But so many would-be disciples (among them and us) are in the wrong place, even when the resurrected Jesus is standin' right in front of us! We moderns are all too hung-up on special effects. We get excited that Jesus enters the Upper Room, "while the doors are still shut." The New Testament wants us to know. Jesus comes to the right place while his own are still in the wrong place. The disciples were still huddled in fear. Hollywood wants us excited that Jesus can walk though walls or doors like Patrick Swayze in Ghost. Big whoop! Isn't the big deal walkin' out of the grave? I mean, if you can roll away that stone, isn't a little plaster or a wooden latch pretty much child's play?  Well, there stand the disciples, all but Thomas. Christ's mere appearance, even back from the dead, doesn't seem to do it for them. He speaks to them his peace. The same peace he offered them, even before the cross. He shows them his hands and side. Only now their fear lifts, their faith begins to dawn. "Then [finally] the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord," says John. Fear is the wrong place to receive the Risen Lord. Pre-occupation with self, too. (They were as concerned for their hides, as we are for ours). This is the wrong place. Insistence that we know what's possible. 'What God can do and not. This is the wrong place. 'Lookin' around tryin' to decide who's really in and out of the Lord's favor (surely Peter must've felt the judgment). This is the wrong place. Oh, we're the same folks who stood up, right in this room last Sunday. We said, "I understand that resurrection literally means to stand up again, to get back on our feet. And we want to stand because of Jesus, by the power of Jesus. We want to stand with Jesus. We want up from the grave and all the stuff that would bury us in this life, just like Jesus. And yet, like those at first, even in the right place, we spent most of this week, one way or another, in the wrong place. Me came first. I got trusted most. They worried, angered, frustrated or defeated me. Jesus surely rolled the stone away for us, 'may've walked through walls. But still, we didn't live like we were all that sure. So he stands before us, THIS day as THAT. He speaks his peace, shows his hands/feet and says, "It's me. Really me. And I'm here for you!"

Friend, are you where you're supposed to be? It's not Omar who's askin'. It's Jesus. The RISEN JESUS. Oh, The Eleven force us to ask, "Am I still so mired in my own pre-occupations and expectations, I can't see Him risen in my life?" 'True enough. But Thomas' story forces us to ask an even more powerful question. "Am I present, fully present among those gathered to wait and pray for the Lord's return? The key here is fully present! I grant you. Of the nearly thousand souls in our company last week, you are here this week. (Alas, we can't say that of everyone. But we can say it of you.) So why talk to you about the spiritual danger of being absent from the body, the Church? Because in the end we are more like Thomas than not. He doesn't quit the movement; leave the church when Jesus dies. He doesn't miss the body, and the boat, by being out-for-groceries at the Stop-n-Shop on Easter evening. It's more than that. John paints him in-and-out across the first eight Easter days. So when Christ surprises with the glory of his glory, Thomas may or may not be there to see it. The consequences will range from his own conversion to converting those he's called to serve.

If you want an Easter Life, not just an Easter Day, be present among Easter People. Early/often/regularly. And not just on Sunday. Christ appears unexpectedly in so many settings. In classrooms. Prayer times. In quiet conversations fixin' food in the kitchen. With the choir, the youth. So many places. It's all a part of the ministry of encouragement. We lift each other until the Lord appears. I hesitate to say Thomas was casual in his commitment. He was not. But he appears periodic in the body. That's the rub. Elsie was 84. Knarled with arthritis. Open the church or kitchen door, she was there. She told me, "When my son Pat nearly died in the hospital, I didn't expect him, but Jesus came. When my husband did die, I was home alone. But He came anyway, Jesus. When I lost my way, but stopped in here for lunch, I got more than a meal. I got my Lord back. See, He insists on being where folks are looking for Him. If you want the prizes He brings, it's good to be where He so often surprises." She understood the hymn that rings, "Sometimes a light surprised the Christian as he sings. It is the Lord who rises with healing in his wings." I remember Chuck. He ran the local movie house. Out late every Saturday, in church early every Sunday. He told me once. "Even lousy movies sometimes turn out well. And there are surprises on every reel if you just watch for them. I oughta know, what with seein' the same ones over and over. Church is like that. Even the lousy Sundays let Jesus show up. Even the so-so sermon has a lightening bolt in there somewhere. And should it come for me, I don't want the lightening to go to ground that was really meant for me!" (Chuck died, by the way, in the projection room. I've often wondered what was the last surprise he saw on film. But I have long known Christ's appearance to him in that place was no surprise at all. Chuck had stayed near to the Body of those on the look-out a long time. He knew Him when Jesus said, "Peace be yours." And He showed him his hands and side.)

Friend, are you where you're supposed to be? Open to what Christ-Risen reveals. Constantly available. His presence surprises. 'In the moment and manner he appears… to those who wait. There is one other option. Perhaps you are called to be out ahead and serving him. Likely, this was Thomas' role. We have people doing that this very day. Preparing the way. An ocean off. In the ER, readying for the next patient in need of Holy Healing, or in some other way. Here's the thing. The Easter thing. Where will YOU be when He comes?"

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